To begin with, the Korean school system has a lot of similarities to the US system. It’s broken down into elementary, middle, and high school. They have public and private schools. And the general organization and class requirements are the same as back home. That being said, there are plenty of differences between the two, so let’s dig in!
Hagwons and academies are pretty similar to each other and I have several friends who teach at hagwons. These are places that students go after school to further their instruction in specific subjects. The classes are usually around 5-15 students and they are open from 3:00-10:00PM. It’s basically like taking extra classes in English or math or science or clarinet or whatever subject the parents think the kids should know more about. Generally, teachers at hagwons and academies get paid more, since they are privately funded, but they also don’t get as many days off and have a lot less free time.
So with all that constant learning, you think they’d be pretty burnt out. But they’re not! They’re like if you took 8 packs of mentos, dropped them into a gallon of diet coke, and then sealed the lid before it exploded. I think it’s because they don’t have an outlet for all their energy, they just have to stay inside all day learning and memorizing. If we gave them a couple hours after school to go and play, and if they had Saturday off, I feel like they would be way more chill in class.
The last thing I’ll say about the students is that they’re incredibly book smart. They are great at memorizing and reciting and doing worksheets. However, they are sorely lacking in the creativity department. Any assignment they get that asks them to think outside the box or create something original usually results in lots of blank stares and students asking, “wait, so what’s the right answer?” Aside from that, they are very respectful, friendly, and hardworking (most of the time), and I have a lot of fun working with all of them.
For elementary school, the teachers are required to take a test before they start teaching. This test determines if they become a homeroom teacher, an English teacher, or a teacher of one of the few subjects not taught by the homeroom teacher such as science. From what I’ve seen, this leaves you with a lot of frustrated teachers who wanted to teach 3rd grade and ended up being the school’s English teacher because their English ability, though minimal, was the best out of everyone else in the school. Overall though, the teachers know their craft (they’ve all attended 4 year universities) and are passionate about education.
Parent: “Howz Mikson n class? Ys he got Fs?”
Teacher: “Sry, ur kid is ALLways L8 and doesnt no how 2 learn”
Parent: “O I C. l8r teach”
A lot of times, when they’re yelling at the kids about how rude they are or what not it will go something like this, “I can’t believe you are talking while I am, that is completely disrespectful. Put your hands on your heads! How many times do we have to go through this? Put your hands behind your back! Every day I tell you the same thing and you never listen. Put your hands back on your heads!” And so on and so forth for somewhere between 1 and 10 minutes. Sometimes, if just one kid is being bad the teacher will only have him put his hands on his head for a while. Or she’ll have him go stand in the corner on one foot or something like that. So far, it seems pretty effective, and generally the kids are good after that. At least for the rest of that class.